The 25 Best Selling Whiskies of 2018 – KWM’s Whisky Year in Review

by Evan

As we gently dip our toes into a new year, it is both a time to look forward and a time to look back. I cannot tell you all of what 2019 will bring for whisky here at Kensington Wine Market. Sure, you can pretty much guarantee there will be another KWM Whisky Advent Calendar, but what about upcoming single casks and exclusives? Some we can’t talk about yet, as the stock isn’t here or the pricing isn’t finalized. Some, we haven’t even selected yet.

So instead, let us cast our gaze back to 2018 and take a look at the year that was. Andrew commanded suggested we do a write-up revealing our top 25 best-selling whiskies of 2018. The idea sounded like a good way to keep my job fun, so I went to work on what became the overly verbose, unruly, lumbering beast full of links and ideas that you see below.

If you look at our list below, along with a list of the best-selling whiskies from around the world, you might be perplexed. Can this really be our shop’s list of best sellers? How is it that this list doesn’t include even one single bottle from the five top-selling single malts or twenty top-selling whiskies in the world?

This is what makes our shop different from other wine, beer and whisky retailers out there: We do carry much of what the big brands have to offer, but our primary focus is selling the more exclusive and unique styles and bottles that you might not be able to find elsewhere. That is why many of our own, specially selected, KWM single casks and store exclusives make up this list.

Sadly, some of these best-selling bottles are now out of stock. I have provided a few alternative options to these sold out bottles where possible. This is the nature and one potential downside to single casks and small batches. It is also part of what makes them so exciting and fun. The uniqueness of each cask is what draws us in, and that is a big reason why we spend a lot of time and effort searching for new casks to bring in.

25 – Benromach 10-Year-Old 100 Proof

This higher proof version of the already excellent Benromach 10 year is amazing and very well-priced for what you get. Springbank 12 year cask strength hunters, which are consistently disappointed that it is so sought after and nearly always sold out, should take note of this bottle if they have not already, as there are some similarities in style. Get it while you can! Bottled at 57% ABV or 100 British Proof, this bottling is sadly being phased out in favour of a cask strength Benromach. Here’s hoping it is just as good!

24 – Elements of Islay Peat Cask Strength / Full Proof

One of a duo (and sometimes a trifecta) of very good and inexpensive high-strength and heavily peated blended malts from Islay. This 500mL bottle of Blended Malt packs a punch at 59.3% ABV. This is also a great whisky for cocktails like our “Smoke n Coke,” which contain no actual Coca-cola products!

23 – G&M Caol Ila 2002 KWM Cask – SOLD OUT

I will miss the fun back and forth Curt and I had over which of the two G&M KWM Caol Ila single casks was better. Curt felt this 2002 with its salty fruit and nuance was the winner, and I knew he was wrong. Customers are undoubtedly relieved that this now being sold out eliminates most of our back and forth bickering, but I am sure we will find something else to argue about in near future.

Potential Alternatives: Port Askaig 19 Year, the upcoming Port Askaig 14 Year, Lagavulin 12-year-oldEdradour / Ballechin Cuvee 2009 8 Year

Coming soon?

22 – First Editions Aberlour 23 Year KWM Cask

This amazing curiosity of an Aberlour that is not heavily sherried and somehow has a bit of peat to it would not be what it is without being at cask strength. We had the option to save a few bucks on each bottle by having it cut to 50% ABV and sold under the Old Malt Cask line – but Curt and Shawn championed the idea of keeping this at cask strength. Now that we have the final product, I am so glad that they got their way. I was not as excited as they were upon first tasting the sample, but boy do I love this one now! Sadly it will not last long, at the time of wrting it is 75% sold!

Potential Alternatives: I don’t know – have you spotted any other rainbow-coloured unicorns lately? If you are looking for off the beaten path (as this one is), then check out our KWM Amrut aged for 8 and a half years in an ex-rum cask then bottled at 60% ABV. Also, take a look at a Scotch Malt Whisky Society Membership – they love bottling excellent and unique casks at cask strength. When I am personally looking for said colourful horned equines, a green bottle is usually my first stop.

21 – Nikka From the Barrel – Returning soon!

Always a great value and a solid go-to for people both just getting into the world of Japanese Whisky or those that have already tried everything. This is currently sold out. The accolade it just received is probably to blame. Hopefully, we will see more of it around the spring of 2019.

Potential Alternatives: It won’t be exactly the same but you could try another Nikka bottle – their entire lineup worth trying. The Nikka Pure Malt series is being discontinued so perhaps grab a bottle of the Red or Black while you still can. You could also check out one of the other Japanese Whiskies available from the likes of Yamazakura, White Oak, or Kura to name a few.

20 – Ardbeg Grooves Committee Edition

This should read SOLD OUT right now, but we kept back a few cases for later release. They won’t last long and are still exclusive to Ardbeg Committee Members (anyone can join) and limited to one per customer.

Potential Alternatives: Port Askaig 19 yearKilchoman KWM Cask is a 10-year-old 100% Islay, or waiting for the next Ardbeg Day release, where they get deeper into that Groove and join a Drum circle.

19 – White Oak Akashi Japanese Whisky

We started 2018 with the White Oak Japanese Whisky as a KWM exclusive. It is a solid whisky at a very good price – their single malt is a smooth and easy drinking bottle as well.

18 – Cadenhead Ord 2005 Quaich Cask

This Cadenhead Glen Ord was selected and bottled for the group known as the Companions of the Quaich. There are only 198 bottles available of this 13-year-old single malt, bottled at 55.1%. Because this bottling was selected for and sold to Quaich members first, less than 1/5 of the original stock remains. Mini/50mL bottles are also available as it was featured in our 2018 KWM Whisky Advent Calendar.<

Potential Alternatives: Look directly below!

17 – Cadenhead Dailuaine 2004 KWM Cask
This was our second KWM Cask from Cadenhead, and it is a wonderfully balanced dram, in my opinion – full of soft and waxy fruit notes. Only 1/5 of the bottles from the cask remain!

Potential Alternatives: Cadenhead Linkwood 2005 KWM CaskCadenhead Ord 2005 Quaich Cask, Cadenhead Glen Moray 1992 KWM Cask

16 – Kilchoman 2007 KWM Cask 25th Anniversary 10-year-old – SOLD OUT – but still available in mini bottle form while supplies last!

This Kilchoman KWM cask was the first 10-year-old bottling to be sold in Canada from this relatively young Islay distillery. It was amazing. It is gone. Get the 50mL / mini bottle version while you can.

Potential Alternatives: Our current Kilchoman KWM Cask is a 10-year-old 100% Islay. It may a bit softer in style but it is just as stunning, in Andrew’s opinion even better (and $5 less to boot)! Also, take a look at the Port Askaig 19 year for complexity as well as the G&M Ardmore 1996.

Out with the old 10 year - In with the new 10 year!

15 – G&M Caol Ila 2007 KWM Cask – SOLD OUT

Well, would you look at what popped up higher on the list between our two Caol Ila G&M casks? Are you reading this, Curt? This was the younger, more punchy version of the two. Both are excellent and you couldn’t go wrong with either one – unless you didn’t manage to get a bottle. That would be bad, as now they are both sold out.

Potential Alternatives: Port Askaig 19 Year, the upcoming Port Askaig 14 YearEdradour / Ballechin Cuvee 2009 8 Year, Paying more attention to what Curt and Evan say in the future.

Personality Clash

14 – Canadian Rockies 21 Year Whisky

There is a reason this Canadian Whisky is so high up on the list. If you have not tried it yet then you should check it out. Sourced from Highwood Distillers in High River, Alberta – this is a beautiful Canadian whisky with some age to it (allegedly considerably more than is on the label… 30+ years). Best of all, it isn’t all that expensive.

Potential Alternatives: Canadian Rockies also bottles a 17-year-old version at 50% ABV. For older Canadian whisky, get the Canadian Club 41 year old while it lasts. For a full-on 100% Rye experience, you need to check our Shelter Point Rye KWM Cask. The Shelter Point KWM Single Malt is also great cask.

13 - Arran 1996 KWM Cask 56 – 22 Year

One of two current Arran KWM Casks we have – both distilled during the Isle of Arran’s first year of operation back in 1996. This is the more richly sherried of the two casks, which is likely why it has been more popular thus far. We only just received it in November too, placing this high on the list. It is also already very close to 1/2 sold!

Potential Alternatives: Take a look at the Arran 1996 KWM Cask 559 21 Year - it is no slouch, offering a softer, nuttier and potentially more complex style. The Arran 18-year-old is also worth a look as well as the limited Arran Brodick Bay.

KWM Casks and Blends

12 -Ileach Cask Strength – SOLD OUT (Currently)

This inexpensive and well-made cask strength Islay bottle is a perennial best seller for us, and it would probably be further up the list if we could manage to get more from the company that makes it. A mystery malt, the whisky is allegedly from Lagavulin. At $80, for a cask strength, sherry cask Ileach, it is a steal!

Potential Alternatives: Port Askaig 100 Proof, Elements of Islay Peat Full Proof, Just about anything from the Elements of Islay line actually.

11 – Springbank 15 Year

One of two Springbank bottlings on this list. How did we sell so many bottles of this small Campbeltown distillery’s bottles compared to big guns like Glenfiddich, Glenlivet and Macallan? That is mostly thanks to our customers. Honestly, we love just about all whisky here at Kensington Wine Market – that is why we had to add two extra rows of shelving in late 2017 for extra bottle space! Our customers buy a lot of the top three single malt brands listed above, but we get more questions about Springbank releases and availability than for any other distillery in Scotland. Ultimately we may be at the root of this problem though, as Springbank has been one of our favourite and one of the most promoted distilleries at KWM for nearly 20 years! We are also the only destination for Springbank Society bottlings other than the distillery.

Potential Alternatives: Take a look at the Benromach 15 year if you haven’t already – it is softer in style but still carries a good amount of complexity. As mentioned at the top – get a bottle of Benromach 10 year 100 Proof while you still can, and also take a look at what Springbank’s sister distillery Glengyle is up to with its Kilkerran line of Single Malt Scotch.

10 – Wyoming KWM Single Barrel Bourbon #2

Over the past two years, we have sold through two single casks from this Bourbon Distillery located near the very small town of Kirby in Wyoming. Sadly, because of a change in ownership and a change in direction for the company, we likely won’t be able to get another single cask from them any time soon. But that won’t deter us from trying!

Potential Alternatives: Wyoming Bourbon Small Batch, The Burning Chair Bourbon, Blanton’s Original or Blanton’s Gold (when you can get them), Wild Turkey Rare Breed

9 – Old Malt Cask Mortlach 11 Year KWM Cask

I could have sworn we just got this bottle in, so I just checked to make sure. It has only been available since the end of October 2018, and yet we have already sold nearly 200 of the 232 bottles. It is a delicious Mortlach, quite atypical of the house style – and the price is incredible given the quality. Did I mention we have mini bottles of it as well? Those are likely to last a fair bit longer than the full size ones!

Potential Alternatives: The Lismore 15 year, The Lismore 21 year, Cadenhead KWM Casks from Dailuane and Linkwood.

8 – Compass Box KWM 25th Anniversary Blend

Not sold out yet, but it is getting very, very close with only 13 bottles left as I type this. Another of our 25th Anniversary bottlings, this was our first collaboration with John Glaser and Compass Box. Hopefully, we will get the opportunity to do another in the future, but we know John is a busy man. We were tickled to discover that this whisky, which is still $160 in the shop, has sold for over $500CDN at auction in the UK!

Potential Alternatives: Have you tried anything else from Compass Box? I have yet to have a sub-par whisky from them. It is more expensive, but you could also take a look at this exclusive 40-year-old gem of a blend.

7 – Glenfarclas 25 Year KWM Cask StrengthSOLD OUT

When we asked George Grant and Glenfarclas if they would do a special bottling for our 25th Anniversary in 2017, this 25-year-old at a strength of 52% ABV was what they sent us – and we were not disappointed in the least! The only downside was that it was limited and is now gone for good. Luckily we have another special Glenfarclas bottling on the way…

Potential Alternatives: Glenfarclas 105 22-year-old, Glenfarclas 15 Year KWM Cask Strength (coming soon!), First Editions Aberlour 23 Year KWM Cask

Spoilers!

6 – Springbank Hazelburn 10 Year Old

This is the second Springbank bottling on our list, and it is curious to see it place so high! This, along with the Springbank 15 year are both regular bottlings too, neither being a special release. Because of the nature of the distillery though, they do tend to have batch variation, and that is what makes even the regular lineup so exciting. It is also why Springbank fans are constantly looking for the next release from the distillery.

Potential Alternatives: I would take a look at the more limited Benromach Triple Distilled for another robust younger malt with a lot to offer. Independent bottlings from Ardmore Distillery and official bottlings from Ballechin (peated Edradour) are worth a look as well.

5 – Compass Box No Name – SOLD OUT

What happens when you make a Compass Box blended malt consisting of 3/4 Ardbeg Whisky? It sells out very quickly apparently! Andrew had a chance to sample the Ardbeg vatting before blending as well as the finished product. The final product was a considerable improvement on the single malt on its own. Only John Glaser would take a parcel of 14 year old Ardbeg and blend it… we are glad he did!

Potential Alternatives: Our Kilchoman KWM 100% Islay 10-year-old single cask should satisfy most peat freaks. Looking for actual Ardbeg? You could always go straight to the source. I can neither confirm nor deny whether we will see an Ardbeg in the Elements of Islay lineup in the near future…

4 – Bruichladdich 2006 KWM Cask 3307 – SOLD OUT

We knew this cask would be popular, but we had no idea it would become our fastest selling single cask ever – all 270 bottles sold in just 10 days. We are trying hard to get a new cask!

Potential Alternatives: Bruichladdich has a well-stocked lineup of official bottles right now, especially when you include Port Charlotte and Octomore in the mix. If you want that wild spiciness and high octane then our Amrut KWM ex-rum Cask is just as bold, though the flavour profile runs in a different direction. I would also recommend taking a look at both Glengoyne Cask Strength and GlenAllachie 10 Year Cask Strength for slightly more toned down offerings of fruit and spice.

3 -anCnoc 22 year – SOLD OUT

The importer made us an offer we couldn’t refuse, by dropping the price on the remaining stock of this solid single malt from Knockdhu Distillery. Every once in a while we get offers like this, as we did in 2017 with The Mackinley’s Shackleton: The Journey Blended Malt Scotch. If we like the whisky, we bring it in at the lowered price and pass the savings on to you. Curt is hoping that this will eventually happen with an official bottle of Brora, but we are not holding our collective breath on that idea.

Potential Alternatives: The anCnoc 24-year-old is still available. Also, check out the Glenfarclas 105 22-year-old and the Compass Box Flaming Heart 2018 Edition – also available in Magnum form.

2 – 2018 KWM Whisky Advent Calendar

What is better than talking about one bottle? Talking about 25 mini bottles that all come in one convenient box! Given that we sold well over 400 Calendars this year, it is surprising that this isn’t number one on the list. What could have possibly topped it?

1 – Tomatin 1999 KWM Cask – SOLD OUT

This was a popular bottle for us for a little over a year – and considering we started with over 600 bottles of this single cask it is a little surprising to me that it did not last longer than it did. That being said, big rich and cask strength Sherry Bombs aren’t easy to come by anymore – especially for 150 bucks or less.

Potential Alternatives: Lismore 21-year-old, Macallan Classic Cut, Glenfarclas 105 22-year-old, Arran Brodick Bay, Cooper’s Choice 1996 Glen Keith finished in a Juracon Cask.

Another one bites the dust

And there you have it, our top 25 best selling whiskies at Kensington Wine Market for 2018 in all of its glory (or horror?)! Raise a glass filled with your own favourite from the list, be it a newly-found friend or a dearly-departed and sold-out member of your shelf. Here is to the past, and to the future and all of the new bottles 2019 will bring!

Cheers,
Evan
evan@kensingtonwinemarket.com
Twitter and Instagram: @sagelikefool
Instagram: one part of @kwmwhisky

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